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Wine-Tasting Tour of Germany

A tractor filled with Riesling grapes in Mehring.

Photo: Christian Kerber

While we were driving through Brauneburg searching for Günther Steinmetz, a winery we’d heard about from a shopkeeper in New York City, a cat darted across the street and we screeched to a halt. Fortunately, we hadn’t hit “Ramses,” because when we ultimately found the villa-winery-gasthaus, there he was, lounging on the stoop. And when Stefan Steinmetz opened the door, the cat trotted in, promptly curled up on a chair in the parlor, and went to sleep.

Steinmetz is another of the valley’s young stars. Though he’s 31 now, he bottled his first vintage at 20. His father had a heart attack while Steinmetz was at viticultural school in Trier, and he assumed complete operation of the winery. He made some swift changes: he sold his father’s machines; acquired a new pneumatic press, pump, and crusher that’s gentler on the fruit; reduced yields to concentrate ripeness in fewer, better grapes; and also did away with manufactured yeasts for Pinots and red wine grapes, so fermentation would be spontaneous, slower, more natural.

With his mother puttering in the kitchen across the hall and his father and Ramses looking over our shoulders, Steinmetz led us through a tasting with thrill-upon-thrill: our first Pinot Blanc of the trip was but one of these. We also tasted two Rieslings from the same vintage, made in the same style, but from parcels just a few hundred feet from one another, that had such astonishing differences in structure and flavor that they might as well have been from different continents. After the tasting, we ducked through a trapdoor in the kitchen and descended underground to the medieval stone basement where a season’s worth of wine sat in barrels.

The stillness of the cellar put us in a contemplative mood—the thought of all that wine resting—as we drove out of Brauneburg, but we were instantly jolted from our reverie upon arriving in Zeltingen. A street festival was in full throng, brass bands belting out oompahs that reverberated throughout the town. Vendors sold grilled sausage and Weinstands were everywhere, shoehorned into the medieval streetscape. Families were out enjoying the balmy evening, toddlers dropping their hot dogs on the cobblestones.

Our final morning in the Mosel, the sun shone brightly on the water and the paved paths that follow the river were alive with runners and cyclists. We decided to rent bikes of our own, and rode up into the vineyards behind the town, pedaling lazily across the Himmelreich vineyard and stopping every so often when the wind whipped up to launch a kite. On a bicycle, you experience the vines close enough to discern plots that are tiny—only one row wide—and plots whose owners felt the need to plant pumpkins between the rows. Hand-lettered wooden signs (in the case of smaller owners) and plastic logos (the corporate behemoths) mark the boundaries, which are otherwise invisible to the naked eye. We got the sense that growers here know each vine personally, and that had an effect on us that week. Anytime we’d felt rain or a chill, it was as if those were our grapes getting cold and wet. Now that the sun was out, we felt that, too—the joy, the warmth, more fully than before.

We rode across the river and up into the vineyards there, for a look back at Zeltingen. But as the grade got steeper, we became winded and began to walk. Just then, a pack of cyclists sped noisily by. It was a group of septuagenarians pedaling their way past us.

Matt Lee and Ted Lee are T+L contributing editors.

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